With enough security Musharraf has to appear on Friday

After an Interior Ministry alert which spoke of a Taliban/al Qaeda plan to kill former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, the special court trying him for high treason exempted him from appearance on Tuesday. The court directed the ministry to make adequate security arrangements for his appearance on Friday for indictment.

The defence produced a letter dated March 10 from the National Crisis Management Cell (NCMC) of the Interior Ministry titled 'Threat alert 239' saying that it is reliably learnt that miscreants affiliated with the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan(TTP)/al-Qaeda have made a plan to target/assassinate Gen Musharraf in the near future.

According to available information, the reconnaissance of all possible routes from the Armed Forces Institute of Cardiology(AFIC) to the special court was already completed by the miscreants and hardcore fighters have been placed on the routes likely to be followed by his escort teams. It seems the terrorists have sympathizers in the security cavalcade of Gen Musharraf. The plan may materialize either en route using Improvised explosive devices or vehicle borne IEDs inside or outside the court similar to the Salman Taseer incident, the letter signed by Director, Security, Naseem ul Haq Hashmi, said, suggesting foolproof security and extreme vigilance. Punjab governor Taseer was shot dead by his bodyguard in Islamabad in 2011.

The ministry on Tuesday night had said it had only circulated a security alert from the agencies. The court summoned Secretary Interior Dr Shahidullah Khan who said that the letter was based on a report of intelligence agencies and it was a verbatim reproduction. He said it was his duty to inform all law enforcing agencies so that appropriate security measures could be taken. In response to questions from Judge Faisal Arab, he said that in the wake of the alert, 1600 persons were deployed on the route from AFIC to the court, the security personnel were changed and scanned and special branch was deployed as well. Combing and search operations along the route were also carried out. Justice Arab said if there was such a letter at least the prosecution and defence should have been informed. He asked if the accused was briefed on this as it could be mentally disturbing for him. Special Public Prosecutor Akram Sheikh said that the existence of a threat does not exonerate Gen Musharraf from appearing in court. He said he had checked with the Minister of Interior and this alert was issued without the knowledge of the secretary. However, Justice Tahira Safdar pointed out that the NCMC was part of the Interior Ministry and it was responsible for the correspondence.

Mr. Sheikh demanded that Gen Musharraf be taken into custody so that the government can provide him all arrangements. However, the defence had said that Gen Musharraf was willing to come provided security concerns were addressed. Justice Arab said he would fix Friday for the indictment as this would give enough time to beef up security measures and issued orders to the interior secretary accordingly. He said that in the circumstances, the court could not direct him to appear today.

Earlier Justice Arab instructed some very reluctant security guards to remove defence lawyer Rana Ijaz from court after he made allegations about threats to his security and threatened to implicate the judge if some harm came to him. The court said he would have to apologise for his remarks failing which a contempt notice will be issued to him.